Rhodes on the nature of nuclear war

So much confusion, so much paranoia, so many good intentions, so much hard work, technical genius, cynicism, manipulation, buckpassing, buckpocketing, argument, grandstanding, risk-taking, calculation, theorizing, goodwill and bad, rhetoric and hypocrisy, so much desperation, all point to something intractable behind the problem of how to deploy sufficient and appropriate nuclear arms to protect one’s nation from a nuclear-armed opponent. There was such a beast. It was quite simply the fundamental physical fact of nuclear energy: that such power is relatively cheap to generate and essentially illimitable. Nuclear warheads cost the United States about $250,000 each: less than a fighter-bomber, less than a missile, less than a patrol boat, less than a tank. Each one can destroy a city and kill hundreds of thousands of people. “You can’t have this kind of war,” Eisenhower concluded. “There just aren’t enough bulldozers to scrape the bodies off the streets.” It followed, and follows, that there is no military solution to safety in the nuclear age: There are only political solutions. As the Danish physicist and philosopher Niels Bohr summarized the dilemma succinctly for a friend in 1948, “We are in an entirely new situation that cannot be resolved by war.” The impossibility of resolving militarily the new situation that knowledge of how to release nuclear energy imposes on the world is the reason the efforts on both sides look so desperate and irrational: They are built on what philosophers call a category mistake, an assumption that nuclear explosives are military weapons in any meaningful sense of the term, and that a sufficient quantity of such weapons can make us secure. They are not, and they cannot.

Rhodes, Richard. Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race. p. 101 (hardcover, italics in original)

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

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